Ten a penny…
The English expression “ten a penny” basically means that something is so common as to be practically worthless. A similar idiom in the U.S. would be a “dime a dozen”, but as there happen to be exactly ten one-penny stamps on this 1906 envelope I shall keep to the British English.
One of my specialised philatelic collections is of the Great Britain King Edward VII halfpenny green, one penny red, twopence-halfpenny ultramarine and sixpence pale dull purple stamps first issued on the 1st of January 1902, almost a year into the reign of the new King, and printed continually until 1912, some two years after his death. There were fourteen values - up to one shilling - in the small-format set, but the four values I collect are all of the same basic design showing the King’s portrait in profile, centrally set in an oval of laurel leaves symbolising Victory and oak leaves signifying Sovereignty. The profile showed, according to many accounts, “an honest likeness of the King revealing his good humour, kindness and common-sense nature.” Mind you, the King’s exploits on the other side of the Channel were notorious and his sexual appetites were well known as he indulged his night-time pleasures in the Bois de Boulogne as well as frequenting exclusive Parisian brothels.
That last snippet aside, of course my implication is that these ten penny stamps are so common as to be worthless… which is not quite the case here. Whilst the one-penny red stamp is very common - there were almost twenty billion issued (one of my handbooks states 79,227,757 sheets of 240 were printed making a total of 19,012,289,520 stamps) - this is the only envelope I have seen with ten one penny stamps affixed. The destination was Rome, in Italy, and for that destination and tariff the envelope and contents must have weighed not more than two ounces. Because the tariff for regular “foreign” mail of half an ounce was 2 1/2d, those blue stamps were kept in stock at businesses sending letters abroad regularly. So it would have been far more normal to have affixed four 2 1/2d stamps to this letter rather than searching in a drawer for a ten-penny stamp which probably no business would have kept in stock. Although there were 33,465,600 ten-penny stamps printed, in smaller sheets of 96, it was a fraction of the numbers printed of nearly all the other individual values (only the seven pence stamp had fewer printed).
There again I consider this envelope rather scarce, because of its "multi-stamp" appearance. Individually these “average used” stamps are worth a few pence each. However if, and it’s a big if, a proper ten-pence stamp had been affixed, and by an even greater chance it was of the very rare “slate-purple and deep carmine” shade on chalk-surfaced paper, which was issued only a month before this letter was posted, then used on an envelope the catalogue value would be well in excess of £2,000. But as I said at the beginning… with “ten a penny” mine is practically worthless!
Image + words © Ed Buziak 2018.
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